Data analysis

How the Chicago Transit Authority benefits from real-time data analytics

Chicago gets real-time data to improve transit service

As is the case with many transit agencies, much of CTA’s data on transit vehicle capacity was incomplete, not available in real time, or based on historical averages that may or may not reflect current realities, in particular in the face of changes in public health directives.

Without accurate real-time occupancy data and demand forecasts, CTA had no idea when and where to adjust service to ensure efficiency and reliability, appropriate social distancing and shorter wait times.

To leverage its existing data and collect new data using cutting-edge technology, CTA turned to City Tech Collaborative, a Chicago-based urban solutions accelerator, which led a passenger counting pilot project for understand vehicle occupancy in real time. The pilot was deployed on 10 buses from March to August along CTA’s 79th Street bus route, one of the agency’s busiest, measuring the effectiveness of various passenger counting technologies.

The pilot served several purposes:

  • Capture demand and use data from existing bus video resources
  • Use data management tools to support CTA operations
  • Application of analyzes and predictive models for proactive demand management

Building on existing CTA measures and passenger counting technology to keep the bus and train service timely, efficient and safe, City Tech and an ecosystem of partners implemented video analytics, on-board cameras and routers to provide real-time information on the occupancy of multiple vehicles.

The pilot project recently received the IoT World Today IoT Deployment of the Year award, demonstrating the value of IoT technology in helping CTA to proactively meet ridership demand on routes; reduce passenger congestion and waiting times; and provide a safe and socially remote driving experience.

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How to Streamline Technology Within Transit Agencies

A forthcoming CTA report will show how this model has great potential for solving current challenges within core functions of society, as well as for building a solid foundation for future operations that prioritize the common good.

Over the years, transit agencies have gradually added different applications and systems to their vehicle fleets, such as:

  • Collection and return of payment terminal
  • Computer-assisted dispatch and automatic vehicle location (CAD / AVL)
  • High-speed Internet access for passengers
  • Passenger counters
  • Closed circuit security cameras
  • Remote engine diagnostics and fuel consumption
  • Vehicle telematics, including speed and idle time information
  • Digital maps, signage and advertising

However, implementing these applications and systems in a cost effective manner has been difficult. The city authority may have started with CAD / AVL systems for GPS navigation and vehicle tracking, and later added on-board and in-terminal payment systems that required return to the central office. Next is Wi-Fi for passengers, digital signage, security cameras and more.

The result for many transit agencies has been a multitude of systems that do not integrate with each other and use the same methods of Internet connectivity and the same mobile carriers.

TO EXPLORE: How can smart mobility technology meet the needs of citizens?

For municipalities already tasked with managing large fleets while maintaining an IT infrastructure on a tight budget, the challenges can add up. With more hardware, software, and connectivity to maintain and manage, the risk of system failure only increases. The best answer is to consolidate all vehicle connectivity through a single, robust connection platform.

As unpredictability becomes the new normal, the future of mass transit rests with agencies, operators and authorities who can leverage smart, secure and cost-effective connectivity to enhance the passenger experience, reduce costs and improve safety and performance. In doing so, they invest in the continued economic growth of their cities as well as in the US economy.